by Cheri Cloninger
Dedicated to Richard Dawkins and Professor David Gray
I closed my Evolutionary Biology textbook and put it in my backpack. I felt funny. The night before I had finished reading “The Blind Watchmaker” by Richard Dawkins, which was assigned reading for the class. We were half-way through the semester. I stood up, exited the classroom and entered the long white hallway with fluorescent lights. Time suddenly seemed to slow down, and my legs felt like hardening clay as each step slowed to the point that I stood completely stationary in the middle of the hall.
At first there were no thoughts, just a dizzy feeling as I looked up at the fluorescent lights and the salt and pepper speckled ceiling. I was vaguely aware of students passing on either side of me, but they were only dark blurs and inconsequential.
I think I stopped breathing. There was an almost audible click accompanied by a blinding flash in the back of my skull. I opened my mouth and sucked in air as if I had been drowning, and the rush of thoughts began. Ironically, the first thought was, Oh my God. Oh my god oh my god oh my god. This all makes sense! This is true. And then: Everything I've ever been taught was a lie. A lie. It was all a lie! The propaganda against evolution, the bedtime prayers, the training to resist evil spirits, the classes on how to stay faithful during the imminent end of the world, the videos of Christians being beheaded by rusty guillotines shown to condition us to be brave and resist the mark of the Beast, the speaking in tongues, the baptism where I was held under until I thought I was going to die, the obsessive prayer to prevent demons from entering my brain in the split second that it might become empty of pure thoughts, the constant guilt lest I accidentally tell a lie, the demons which terrified me every night because I was told that they hovered like vultures waiting to possess, and the belt marks and bruises I had suffered as a child in the name of Jesus……
It was all because of a lie.
And I laughed. I threw back my head and laughed as the bliss bubbled up from inside, the laugher releasing with each breath the chains that held so many burdens to my back and chest, and they rolled off with such reality that I physically felt lighter. It was the “Pilgrim's Progress” in reverse. I laughed for joy in finding my freedom, I laughed at my own gullibility, and I laughed in anger as tears streamed down my face for the child that was psychologically tortured and physically beaten in the name of a lie.
After a moment I began walking toward the exit with a gargantuan grin stuck on my face; shaking my head, still in a daze. It was too much to think and feel all at once, it was too intense of an experience to even explain. The facts had been building up inside for months, creating a foundation with logic as a scaffold; building an argument that was too solid for even my stubborn belief to ignore.
That night I slept soundly for the first time in my entire life. For there were no longer demons in the dark waiting for me. There was only the promise of a new tomorrow; free from internal struggle, open to new possibilities, and finally, the permission to simply be.
Below is a link to 2 wonderful pictures of Richard Dawkins and I at the 2009 AAI Convention in Burbank.